Do not be surprised if the “How do you know this person?” section of the Facebook adds an “I worked for him or her” option in the near future. Career services officials at a number of schools say employers have begun using facebook.com to learn about candidates before making the decision of whether or not to hire them — a potential concern for students currently waiting to hear about upcoming internship and job positions.
Many students said they are amazed that the purpose of facebook.com is changing so much, while others view it as an inevitable step in an Internet-based world. Most students said they use their profiles freely, often detailing stories of weekend debauchery and personal humiliation. Also, with users now able to to post pictures, students have been able to share photos of themselves drunk and in other compromising states.
Undergraduate Career Services Director Philip Jones said that although the practice of using facebook.com to investigate employees might infringe on privacy issues, students should be vigilant about what they put in their profiles.
“The Facebook issue is the latest in a string of ‘invasions of privacy’ that students would do well to guard against,” Jones said. “Everything you do that is in the public domain may be used by an employer as a way of evaluating you.”
While many recent Yale graduates working for large companies said they have heard of employers asking junior employees who are young enough to have Facebook accounts to check up on applicants’ profiles, none said they have directly witnessed the practice in their offices.
Sam Hendel ’03, who works for the United Bank of Scotland, said he has heard from his peers in the corporate world that the Facebook is indeed popping up on recruiters’ computer screens.
“Personally, I don’t think it’s very appropriate to look at someone’s social life,” Hendel said. “I mean, who cares?”
Nicole Snyder, associate director for recruitment and employer relations at Princeton University, said that school’s Office of Career Services has also heard from students that potential employers are using the site, and said she advises students to be aware of the image they are presenting.
“I’m not surprised,” she said, “Employers will always be interested to learn as much about their candidates as they can, and this is just another way for them to do so.”
But Facebook spokesman Chris Hughes said he does not believe this situation emerges on a regular basis.
“There have been a scattered few articles in the press regarding employer interviews, but judging from the very few number of reports I’ve seen about it, it doesn’t seem to be as widespread of a phenomenon as some people believe it to be,” he said.
Alex Hetherington ’06, who is joining Yale’s Investments Office next year as a financial adviser, said he does not think the issue is as controversial as concerned students make it out to be.
“I knew it was happening with politicians’ and public figures’ sons and daughters, but not with employers,” he said, “It’s really not that big of a deal though, because they are going to do background checks anyway, so you can’t really hide anything.”
Regardless of the scope of the issue, Jones said it is important for students to take proper measures to ensure that something like a raunchy Facebook profile does not hurt a student’s chances at being hired by a given company. Comparing the situation to recording a voicemail greeting that potential employers might hear, Jones said he advises students to steer clear of gratuitous informality. The Facebook is simply the next step in technological progress, he said.
Hughes said Facebook has built-in safeguards against invasions of privacy and that students have the ability to protect themselves from employer investigation if they so desire. In order to view a profile, a future employer would have to be a graduate of the particular school that the interviewee is attending, and that school would have to give out .edu e-mail addresses to its alumni, he said. Moreover, if students do not want a potential employer reading their profiles, they can change their privacy settings to restrict viewer access to current students only.
Although Xin Ma ’06, who is still interviewing for jobs, said she does not think Facebook profiles should be part of the decision making process for an employer, she said students should be aware of what they are posting.
“I think anything you post on the Web isn’t that personal, even if you want it to be,” she said.
Bryan Hartenberg ’06 said he does not think the practice is necessarily wrong.
“I certainly don’t have a problem with an employer looking at it just for the hell of it,” he said, “I have accepted the fact that a lot of people fudge their resumes a little, so employers might want to get a better idea of what the person they are hiring is like. But I certainly don’t think they should make a decision based on what they see on the Facebook.”
But other students, such as William Vidal ’06, said they think the practice is unacceptable. Vidal, who plans to work as an investment banker at Banc of America Securities in New York City next year, said students could have information about more than just their social lives on their profiles, and employers should not have access to that when making their decisions.
“Obviously, it’s not an ethical thing to do,” he said, “The employer should make a decision based on credentials, resume and interview and not by learning that the candidate is between this and that firm or has interviewed with other firms. Basically, I believe the firm should make their decision based on their direct interactions with the candidate.”
Ben Harrell ’06, who is applying to business school next year, said it is a positive thing that employers are utilizing the Facebook and that students need to accept it and act accordingly.
“I think it’s smart for employers to do that,” he said, “If I were to hire someone, I would check their profile too. Employers will look at pictures, groups you’re in, interests you list, and students need to realize that what’s there can be seen by a lot of people and be aware that anything you put there is really public information.”
Snyder said that regardless of whether they consider the practice ethical, it is still up to students to censor what they put on their profiles.
“I believe that employers will continue to use the resources that are available to them, and students should be aware of any potential consequences which could arise from publicizing private information,” she said.
The Facebook social directory, which is now open to most colleges and universities across the nation, in addition to several schools abroad, was created by former Harvard student Mark Zuckerburg two years ago.